Chris Willard has spent most of her life protecting and serving in law enforcement roles ranging from park ranger to police academy director.
Add one more to the long list.
Willard has been named the Director of Tactical and Professional Development, a newly created position in Temple University’s Department of Public Safety.
“I am thrilled to still be involved in law enforcement training. Instead of completely focusing on recruit officers training, this new position has oversight in police officer, dispatcher, and security officer training,” said Willard, who has been Director of the Temple University Municipal Police Academy, Assistant Director of the Temple University Law Enforcement Training Center and Assistant Director of the Park Ranger Law Enforcement Academy, all programs located at the Ambler Campus. “I will ensure police officers are meeting their mandatory training, maintaining their recertifications, while developing courses utilizing an online learning management system and finding the best way to track the training for all employees to ensure that we are hitting the mark on all the training we should be undertaking.”
Willard said taking on this new challenge is a natural progression from the many training roles she has undertaken since arriving at Temple in 2008.
“I arrived at Temple with the goal of doing something in law enforcement that I had not done before. I had been a park ranger, a police officer, bike officer and supervisor, so I thought that academy director and working with law enforcement training would be a new opportunity,” she said. “In my new role, I will be returning to a police department environment. There is so much happening in the current law enforcement environment which impacts training requirements and needs. We put so much focus on the Police Academy students but there is also a great need to do more to help the officers that are already on the job.”
As Director of Tactical and Professional Development, Willard said her goals “are going to focus on learning about the department and what the department is doing now in terms of training.”
“I plan to take a thoughtful approach reviewing the records and training programs we currently have and developing relationships. I want to meet with each of the units to see what is working, and how they think we can improve so that everyone is part of the process,” she said. “Initially, I will listen to needs and concerns while also evaluating where we are and if we are using best practices. I look forward to working with all the different units within public safety to increase the training program.”
Willard brings decades of law enforcement experience to her new role.
“I turned to law enforcement as a career when I was in college. I was a health and physical education major at West Chester University when, with just one year left, I had an epiphany,” she said. “I wanted to be a police officer. At the time I was a volunteer firefighter and I think that certainly contributed to my interest in protecting the public.”
Willard’s roles at Temple have clearly been reflective of her own law enforcement career, which started in 1991 when she became a park ranger for Chester County Parks and Recreation.
“Law enforcement training for county rangers at the time was nonexistent. Rangers didn’t go to the police academy, there was no park ranger law enforcement training,” she said. “It was ‘Here’s your map, here’s your keys and gun — see you at the end of your shift. Ninety percent of the time, I worked alone. I did that for about five years and then transitioned to a supervisory ranger position.”
At that time, Willard put herself through the Delaware County Police Academy and was hired by the West Chester University Police Department. She then transferred to the Millersville University Police Department in 1997.
“After that, I worked for Allstate Insurance as an auto fraud investigator. That was my ill-fated attempt at working in the private sector — it just wasn’t for me,” she said. “I joined the Chester County Sheriff’s office. I started as a deputy sheriff and left as a corporal and head of the training division. When the opportunity to become part of Temple’s Criminal Justice Training Programs came along, I knew it was the right fit and I thought I certainly had the background to contribute to the training of future officers.”
Temple Ambler, Willard said, has been “a great working and training environment.”
“With the Park Ranger Law Enforcement Academy, we were one of 11 academies, then one of seven and now one of five in the country. I think that speaks volumes about our commitment and our ability to train and having Temple Ambler as a resource, you could not do what we do for our recruits at another location within the University,” she said. “For the Police Academy, with the community that has been built on campus and the geographic location — a lot of our cadets come in from Bucks County and further out — we’ve been able to establish an excellent reputation because of everyone here. My instructors, the administrators and staff at Temple Ambler that support us, it's made it easy to keep moving in the right direction.”
As an institution of higher learning, Willard said, there is also an important benefit to having the training programs in a college setting.
“For our faculty, staff and students, they have seen what the cadets are experiencing firsthand, what they are learning, what they have to do and the dedication they have to put into it to succeed. I think it gives them a better understanding and appreciation for how hard they have to work and what they have to go through to become members of law enforcement,” she said. “Our program instructors have always ensured that our students are aware of the awesome authority of enforcement that they have, which they must balance with their duty to the community.”
One of the things that law enforcement “has lost sight of to an extent is customer service,” Willard said.
“We are here to serve and protect. It was a lesson I learned as a park ranger where I had several rangers that worked for me that would do anything to avoid contact with park visitors and it translates into other areas of law enforcement,” she said. “Not every call, thank goodness, is about criminal activity or a threatening situation. Sometimes it’s just that they need someone to listen to them or they just need help getting their keys unlocked from their car — the little interactions have meaning, they matter.”
Willard will be hitting the ground running in the Department of Public Safety in the coming weeks. Her last day at Temple Ambler is Friday, June 2, and her first day in her new role is Monday, June 5.